Jul 31

How Old Is the Eldest Daughter of the Church?

The Catholic Church in France is sometimes called the "Eldest Daughter of the Church." But just how old is she?

According to legend, Sts. Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, the friends of Jesus from Bethany, were driven out of the Holy Land during an early persecution and were set adrift in a rudderless boat. They miraculously survived this death sentence and landed on the Mediterranean coast of Gaul, the part of the Roman Empire that we now know as France. There they evangelized the people, with St. Lazarus became the first bishop of Marseille. Whether you believe this legend or not, it's quite certain there were Christians in Gaul within a generation or two of Pentecost. Thus, the foundations of Catholic France were laid in the very first century of the Church.
We are on firmer historical ground by the second century, when the first written records of the Church in Gaul appear. At this time, Christianity was in disfavor throughout the empire, with persecutions popping up from time to time at the initiative of local officials or as a result of mob action. In 177 A.D., 48 Christians were tortured and executed in Lugdunum (modern Lyon), a provincial capital built at the confluence of the Rhone and Saône Rivers. One of the martyrs was the city's bishop, St. Pothinus, who was succeeded by St. Irenaeus of Lyon, an important theologian in the doctrinal controversies of the early Church. Irenaeus was himself killed for his faith in Jesus Christ in 202 A.D. Thus, the Eldest Daughter of the Church was born through the blood of the martyrs.
Of course, this is only the beginning of the long and fascinating history of the Catholic Church in France. Since the Church has been present in France almost from the start, many of Catholicism's greatest moments and accomplishments are intertwined with French history. If you want to learn more, don't miss Our Lady and the Eldest Daughter of the Church, the LANE class starting on September 11, 2023!

— Cory Lakatos, LANE Director of Communications